Tag Archive for work

Responsibility

I began my career in tech as software support. This is a job where you help sales people make sales, and then you help the people that bought your software install it and run it. When there are bugs, you get to troubleshoot it, and you have a limited ability to fix things. If the problem exceeds the tools you have, you pass the problem on to the next tier, usually software engineers, who fix the problem or create new tools so that the customers or software support can fix the problem in the future.

From there I moved into systems administration. Setting up servers, managing connectivity, and fixing problems with the software and connectivity. This was, however, entirely internal. In the days before widespread Internet access, and also working for the railroad where they literally had their own network that spanned the entire East coast.

My next move was to shift was to software engineering. Here I was building software and fixing problems.

My last job was a mix of software engineering and systems administration. I got to do both, but unlike my days at the railroad, there I was reliant on a lot of external vendors. Under these conditions, software engineering was much more satisfying. Something was broken, I fixed it. On the systems side, something was broken, I verified that all my stuff was working, then I had to call other people to get them to check their stuff.

This was my process. I took responsibility, and either resolved the problem or verified that I couldn’t resolve the problem because it was someone else’s responsibility.

A lot of people, it turned out, didn’t work that way. So many times I would report a problem to a vendor after having done my due diligence, and they would turn it back on me, asking me to check my stuff again, which the default position being that the problem must be mine, not theirs, even though they’d checked nothing. So many times, someone would come to me with a problem and I’d look at my stuff, find nothing wrong, then figure out where their stuff was broken, take it back to them, and still have them try to push it back on me.

It angers me that people don’t take responsibility, but I know that it often isn’t their fault, it’s company policy. My bosses have almost always tried to get me to spend less time taking responsibility and working problems, and to push it back on other people. It’s usually why I have friction with my bosses, because I won’t. Why should I spend a month going back and forth with a vendor, each of us doing the least amount of work possible and shoving the problem back on the other, when I can just spend a couple days either fixing or identifying the exact problem?

One of the reasons I think that people find their jobs to be unsatisfying is that their jobs are engineered to be unsatisfying. We should stop that. We should do better.

Unemployment in the New World

“So, in general, the idea is to mechanize as many processes as possibly, eliminate human error, increase productivity, reduce costs…”
“Yes.”
“What should all the people you put out of work do?”
“Get other jobs.”
“Doing what?”
“Other jobs.”
“But if all businesses are doing the same thing you are, mechanization, more work with fewer people, et cetera, what jobs?”
“Well, they can’t just be lazy and do nothing!”
“They wouldn’t. Very few people can actually sit around doing nothing for a long time. I mean, sometimes it looks like people do that, but that’s usually because they are just super tired from being worked to death. After some respite, most people would start doing something.”
“Yeah, like getting a job!”
“Well, no, like maybe volunteering in their communities, or making music or art or research and thinking about how to do something new or something better.”
“Who would pay them for that?”

The Standing Desk – Month Eight

It has been a long time since I checked in on the desk…

Our office moved, and I used that as an excuse to build a new standing desk. Still out of IKEA pieces, but this time without that pesky other desk below it.

20130820_134302

It is much nicer, and I don’t feel quite so ghetto. Also, I have my own office, so I’m not surrounded by sitting people.

But how has it been?

On the 4th of July, I ran the Peachtree Road Race. It’s an annual 10K in Atlanta. I’ve done it a few years now, but one thing I noticed this year is that I didn’t get the usual aches and pains in my legs that night or the next few days. I’m going to give credit for that to the fact that I had been standing for 8 hours a day for nearly 6 months at that point.

I haven’t noticed any major weightloss, but I have noticed more energy during the day and in the evening, when I go home, I’m less restless. I actually want to sit down and relax to end my day, whereas before I would get home after sitting all day and feel antsy.

All in all, I feel the standing desk has been a win. I’ll be sticking with it.

Knowing and Seeking

I love knowing things. It is one of my favorite things. Knowing stuff is totally awesome, especially when people ask questions and you have the answers. Knowing is, as they say, half the battle. The other half is seeking, or curiosity.

Too many people stop after knowing.

A while ago, I spouted this on Facebook and Twitter:

I love telling other people how to do their job. I hate that I have to tell other people how to do their job.

And it is a truth I have long lived with. Because I love knowing things, quite often when I interact with someone on a professional level I know a lot of things about their job, and since I also love sharing my knowledge, when the knowledge I have can fill in a gap or point out a flaw, I feel awesome. I also don’t mind when people point out something I didn’t know or missed, because I know I would have done it to them given the chance.

When I don’t know a thing, I like to learn that thing – assuming there is some advantage to doing so. I mean, I don’t know how to ballet dance, but I’m also not in a hurry to learn to ballet dance as I don’t see an immediate benefit to it. This attitude tends to lead me to acting like a detective. If something is broken, I immediately start trying to devise a way to figure out how it is broken and how I might discover a solution.

When this is my job, when it is an item under my purview, this is what I do. And when I say that I hate that I have to tell other people how to do their job, what I really mean is I hate when I have to do the detective work for an item that isn’t in my purview.

Example. I have a customer. That customer uses my service in conjunction with the service provided by another company. The customer has a problem and it appears that both services are not working. I examine my side and determine that my service is working, and only appears to be failing because the other service is not working as expected. The person working at the other company says their service is working and my service is failing. I give the customer a list of simple tests to perform to illustrate the problem. These tests are not being done on my service but on the other service, and the results illustrate that the other service is broken, returning improper results that is leading to the failure of my service. These tests are very simple, take less than a minute to perform, and prove conclusively where the problem is and even point to the solution. So why didn’t the guy at the other company suggest it?

Because it’s easier to point the finger at someone else than it is to solve the problem.

Meanwhile, now that I’ve caused the problem to be fixed, the customer likes me, doesn’t like them, and is open to listening when I suggest that they should switch to another provider for that other service.

If you don’t take care of your customers, someone else will.

The Standing Desk – Month One and then some

I missed the actual one month mark by three weeks, so this is almost a two month update. Check out the original post and the one week update.

Not much has changed. I’m still standing.

The most noticeable effect of this is that when I get home in the evenings, I am much less restless than I used to be. After standing all day, I don’t mind sitting, whereas before after sitting all day I would get home and feel like I needed to be up and moving.

For the time being, I will continue to stand.

And now, we dance!

The Standing Desk – Week One

Stand in the place where you work. Now face West.

Stand in the place where you work. Now face West.

I have survived a week of standing on my feet all day.

I think the most surprising part is that none of my coworkers seem to think that it’s weird. It just is accepted, “Jason is standing now.”

I know the question you all have… how does it feel?

To be honest, it feels… fine. I’m not experiencing some dramatic boost in energy and weight loss – it has only been a week after all – but I am also not in terrible pain. I’m learning. If I wear my hiking boots, my back is cool but my legs get a little sore. If I wear my running shoes, my legs are fine but I get a little pain in my lower back. Of course, sitting all day resulted in different pains. My posture isn’t horrible, but it could be better. I’m trying to make sure I stand with a neutral spine as much as possible, and it helps.

I also still make sure to take little breaks. Not to sit down, but to do some squats or walk around or just bend over and touch my toes a few times.

I need a standing pad. Two reasons. One, to provide a little more cushion. The carpet in the office has cushion, but I suspect after a few years of me riding a chair over it the padding isn’t as good as it used to be. Two, despite all my attempts to ensure proper measurement of the height of the keyboard shelf, I came up a little high… well, it’s about perfect in my hiking boots, but in my other shoes with thinner soles the shelf could be lower.

All in all, the new world order of standing at work has been successful. I’ll report in again when I hit the one month mark.

And because of the stupid caption on the photo, I now have a song stuck in my head. Enjoy!

The Standing Desk – Day One

A couple of weeks ago, I purchased the items I needed from IKEA to construct my standing desk. I had already gotten permission to make the desk, and then it took a while for me to remember to go to the store and buy the bolts I needed to finish it. But it is done.

Yo dawg! I heard you like desks, so I put a desk on your desk!

Yo dawg! I heard you like desks, so I put a desk on your desk!

After getting it set up, I set about my day – standing instead of sitting. I had done my reading and knew to expect some foot and/or leg pain since I’m not used to standing for so long. I did sit for lunch, and toward the end of the day I found myself leaning on the other part of my L-shaped desk.

On the whole though, smashing success. I hurt a little, and I’m a little more tired, but in general I actually feel better. We’ll see how I feel in a week…

The happy secret to better work

Let me begin with a video. Take 12 minutes and 21 seconds and watch it. I’ll be here when you are done.

I love TED talks. I’ve posted a number of them before. This one, however, struck a chord with me because it touches on ideas that I have had for myself for years.

Be happy now, not later.

A couple of weeks ago I wrote a short post about my philosophy on work. Whether you saw it at the time, the central premise behind it is that you should be happy with the job you have while you have it, even if you don’t like it and are looking for something else. Being happy with your job, even if it is just being happy with doing your job well although the job itself sucks, is the beginning of a ripple that will affect everything else in your life and everyone around you. You might hate your job, but face it, if the boss pulls you aside to tell you how awesome you are at the job, you feel great. And if your job is managing people, remember that telling people about the good things they do can actually have an impact on places they need to improve. Lead with bad news, then close with a few comments about the good stuff they do. You’ll actually bolster their spirit and that alone may be enough for them to improve in those problem areas. If all you do is yell at an employee, perhaps you should do both of you a favor and let them go, because your constant berating and never telling them anything positive is, for most people, actually going to make them perform worse, not better.

There is an old saying about crying over spilt milk and how you shouldn’t do it that no one these days really understands because who would ever cry over spilt milk? But the point of the saying is another thing I’ve talked about for years. The point is, once the milk is spilt, just clean it up. You gain nothing from being distraught or upset over the loss of the milk. It’s trivial. It’s not like a parent died or anything. Too many people spend too much time worrying about and being upset at things that have already happened and can’t be changed. They wind themselves up in knots, making themselves unhappy over past failures when they should be accepting them, learning from them, and moving forward.

Now, that doesn’t mean people shouldn’t care about stuff that happened, but it does mean that you shouldn’t let it cripple you. And you aren’t going to just wipe it off and move on like nothing happened. No, the point is that you understand what happened, resolve to do better, and integrate the experience into who you are to make you better. Why did you spill the milk? Could it have been avoided? In the future, let’s try not to spill milk.

But how do we get better and being better?

The sticking point for most people is that everything they’ve been taught in their lives has led them to the road described in the video: that happiness comes after success.

I suggest taking to heart the list at the end of the video. You need to actively work at changing the way you approach life. Make sure you take the time to acknowledge and dwell on the positive good things in your life and not spend all your time focusing on problems and the stress of working toward future success and future happiness.

If you need a little push, you might consider giving SuperBetter a try. Jane McGonigal has been pushing “gamification” for a long time, and she’s finally unveiled her new project. This website isn’t going to fix your life, but if you work it you might find that using your old/current mindset of chasing achievements can be redirected into things that may help you be happier now and not later.

I haven’t spent much time at that site, so I can’t speak on its effectiveness. But if you know me, or can sleuth out my email from the site, feel free to hit me up as an ally.

The Only Constant Is Change

So, I just started doing this Drawing of the Day thing where I was doing a drawing based on the word of the day as posted by either reference.com or Webster’s. I did four of them and stopped. I haven’t given up, but I had a thought.

First off, doing something daily is a bit hard and actually detracts from my ability to do other things. Also, some of the words of the day are just odd to think of alone. It’s just a word with a definition, no direction, and what I wanted was actually a bit more of a directed exercise.

You see, I can always sit down and just make shit up. My problem has always been that when I return later to the work from the “make shit up” session, I find it hard to continue the work. So, what I’m really looking for is more like the writing prompts you can find all over the place where they give you a subject and a direction and you are supposed to write on it. But with drawing.

To that end, I’m changing the project from Drawing of the Day to something like A Picture is Worth a Week of Words. Instead of using just a single word, I’m going to take seven words, still using the reference.com and Webster’s sources (I’ll choose all 7 from one source, and either I’ll do one, the other or both), and I’m going to do a drawing. I may also do some writing to go with it. They’ll go up on Sundays and use the words from the previous week (Sunday to Saturday).

I’m excited. I was excited before but quickly became drained. This less intensive version should be exciting without the exhaustion.

Ear, Nose and Ducts

Earlier this year I began doing the Insanity work out. And then I quit doing the Insanity work out. Last year, around November-ish, I started feeling not-well. I hedge a bit at using the word “sick” because for the longest time I was never full-blown sick. It was mild (and I mean really mild) congestion with the feeling that something was stuck in the back of my throat. Coughing and the constant swallowing in an attempt to dislodge whatever was stuck there resulted in frequent sore throats, and as time went on it got worse, but never really horrible.

I stopped doing Insanity because it seemed to get really bad while working out. I’d end up way more out of breath than I should be and coughing, and I’d get more congested. When I stopped doing the work outs, it got better.

On Halloween this year, we had a guy come out to inspect the heating and air units in the house. As usual, he changed the filters. The filters were really really filthy, especially in the second unit, the one that handles the basement/media room. When he popped that bad boy out and started changing it, he started coughing and so did I. That night I had a terrible sore throat and a head ache to go with the coughs, and by the next day I was is horrible shape. I stayed home from work the rest of the week recovering. While I got better, I never got well. I didn’t even return to the pre-Halloween me.

I went to the doctor and got some medicine to treat bronchitis, which I may or may not have had – but since I haven’t been given antibiotics for anything in nearly a decade I don’t think my taking some now is going to hurt anything. However, even with the meds, the coughing didn’t go away. So it was time to try something else.

On Sunday morning last week, I woke up and made a concerted effort to stay upstairs. Within a couple of days I was coughing less. It didn’t go away entirely, but it lent credence to the theory that the problem was allergy related, and that I was allergic to something downstairs. So, we called up a company that cleans out air ducts to come and clean ours.

They came on Wednesday and cleared a handful of trash bags worth of stuff from the vents. Dust and mold (probably the culprit), and nails and bottles and cans… it seems that when they built the house many years ago, the construction guys would drink a soda and then just put the waste in a nearby air duct rather than throwing them away. You’d think that perhaps a duct cleaning would occur when the house was finished being built, but apparently not.

With all that out of the way, I found myself breathing a little easier. And yet, I still have the feeling that there is something stuck in the back of my throat. I decide to give in to my 21st Century Internet tendencies and go to WebMD. For over a year I’ve been telling doctors that I have this feeling, and they’ve continually told me to take allergy medication. Over on WebMD though, I find that this is also sometimes a symptom of acid reflux. You see, acid gets out of your stomach the wrong way and into your esophagus, and your esophagus tightens to prevent it from going further or something like that, hence the feeling that something is stuck in your throat and why coughing doesn’t help (coughing is air coming from the lungs, and while air and food go in the same hole, there are two different tubes they travel down, so no amount of air from the lungs will help a problem coming from your stomach). I get myself some antacids which WebMD recommends to combat acid reflux, and lo and behold I’m feeling better. I wish I could get back the money I spent on doctors and prescriptions. Oh well.

And I’m feeling better just in time too! I’ll start exercising again this Friday… after Thanksgiving.